TORONTO – Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin would like to see other NHLers get the opportunity to play in front of the adoring fans in Quebec City.
The former teammates, both first-round picks of the Nordiques, make up half of this year’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction class and were asked about the prospect of the NHL returning to the city during a question-and-answer session with fans on Sunday morning.
“I don’t think you’re going to find anywhere where people are so passionate about the game,” said Sakic.
The former Nordiques captain made the move to Denver along with the rest of the team in 1995 and ended up finishing his career with the Avalanche, collecting two Stanley Cups to go along with an Olympic gold medal before retiring in 2009.
Now an executive adviser in the Avs’ front office, Sakic noted that Quebec’s economy has greatly improved in recent years and that the city has started construction on an arena more suited to big-league hockey.
“We’ll see,” he said.
Sundin spent his entire NHL career playing for Canadian teams and also believes Quebec City would be a good candidate to rejoin the league at some point.
“In Canada, everywhere hockey has such support and Quebec City is no different,” he said. “Definitely there would be a lot of support.”
Sakic and Sundin first met in 1990, when the Swede came to North America one year after being drafted No. 1 overall. Sundin remembers being extremely nervous while taking the morning skate before his first game and having Sakic, already team captain, come alongside him and say: “Hey kid, finally I have someone to play with.”
Sunday’s fan forum is always one of the most entertaining parts of induction weekend, with the players in a relaxed mood while taking a number of offbeat questions.
This year’s class is full of offensive stars, including Pavel Bure and Adam Oates, and they all got a laugh when asked by one fan to recall any memories of fights they had in the NHL. Bure, a five-time 50-goal scorer, only remembered one against Ron Sutter of the Calgary Flames.
“I didn’t have too many,” said Bure. “I remember I tried once and got knocked down right away.”
Oates grew up in Toronto and recalled taking the subway with his father to attend games at Maple Leaf Gardens. He was most known as a playmaker during his career—piling up 228 assists in three seasons while playing alongside Brett Hull in St. Louis—and was asked who he most liked passing to.
He quickly interjected: “I did score a couple goals you know.”
The most interesting part of the hour-long session is that not one question pertaining to the lockout was asked. That topic will be unavoidable on Monday, when commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr are both scheduled to be in attendance.
Sundin will also command plenty of attention. He led the Maple Leafs in scoring during 12 of his 13 seasons with the team and has already had his No. 13 honoured at Air Canada Centre.
On Sunday, Sundin surprised the pro-Leafs crowd at the Hall when he admitted that he grew up a fan of the Montreal Canadiens because Mats Naslund was his childhood idol.
However, he later made amends when he said he wished he never left Toronto at the end of his career. The longtime Leafs captain indicated that he strongly considered retiring in 2008 before deciding to sign with the Canucks the following season for a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
“It was a good experience but I wish I would have finished my career as a Maple Leaf,” said Sundin. “Toronto for me is my home as much as Sweden. I’m very glad to be back here today.”